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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Verdi Heroines
see track listing below review
Maria Callas (soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicola Rescigno (Macbeth, Ernani, Don Carlo - Tu che la vanità )
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Nicola Rescigno
rec. 19-21, 24 September 1958, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (Macbeth,Ernani,Don Carlo - Tu che la vanità ); 17-27 December 1963, 20-21 February 1964, Salle Wagram, Paris except (Aida) April 1964, Salle Wagram, Paris.
EMI CLASSICS 4332912 [79:12]

This is simply the latest re-issue of a compilation first re-mastered and issued in 2007 in the EMI “Great Recordings of the Century” series, already ably and enthusiastically reviewed by my colleague Dominy Clements. The selection was made from three celebrated Verdi recital albums recorded between September 1958 and April 1964. I have often remarked that the decline in Callas’s voice was by no means linear or progressive; in many ways she sounds as good in 1964 as six years previously; the latest recording here, “Ritorna vincitor”, finds her in excellent, authoritative voice, in no way appreciably inferior to her “Macbeth” arias. The bad patch came in 1962 and 1963 and these takes were made when she was in better voice; you may hear on the EMI “Callas Rarities” double disc set that even as late as 1969 she was singing Verdi spectacularly well. 

Well filled though the disc is at over 79 minutes, room could not be made for everything and the one item I particularly miss is her carpet-chewing version of Abigaille’s big aria from “Nabucco” but what remains still constitutes a treasurable compendium of Callas at her finest in Verdi. 

Whenever I re-listen to those three spectacularly chilling and powerful “Macbeth” arias, I regret afresh that she never made a studio recording of what I believe to be her greatest Verdi role. These are definitive accounts, truly “the voice of a she-devil” that Verdi stipulated. The glory of her cavernous - some would say hollow - lower register is frequently in evidence yet she is also capable of the utmost delicacy, as in her inflection of the word “immaginar”. Even the top D of the “andiam” on which she exits is in place, leaving the most remarkably haunting impression. Yes; the top notes flap, the tone too often hardens or curdles but always her voice is in service of the dramatic purpose and the subtleties of her expression of text continue to imprint themselves indelibly on the listener’s mind, rendering subsequent accounts otiose. Again, one notes her heart-stopping use of portamento and, those trenchant low notes; this was a voice made to express scorn, rage and despair - qualities which these arias demand in plenty.
 
For all that I had previously known and loved most of the recordings here, I was for some reason unfamiliar with the extended ten minute excerpt from “Aroldo” and would urge waverers to start by sampling her account of that marvellous aria “Ah! Dagli scanni eterei” which amply displays both her vocal accomplishment and her gift for textual nuance.
 
The recorded sound is good even if the orchestra is a little distant in the “Otello” excerpts. Callas’s long-time, trusted conductor friend Nicola Rescigno provides pace, power and urgency and sensitively accommodates the diva’s expressive requirements with subtle rubato.  

Ralph Moore 

Track Listing
Macbeth
(1847)
Nel di della vittoria... Vieni! t'affretta...
Or tutti sorgete [7:50]
La luce langue [4:10]
Una macchia è qui tuttora [11:18]
Ernani (1844)
Surta è la notte ... Ernani, Ernani, involami [6:16]
Don Carlo (1867)
Tu che la vanità [10:46]
Otello (1887)
Mi parea. M'ingiunse di coricarmi...
Mia madre aveva una povera ancella... [5:19]
Piangea cantando... [7:14]
Ave Maria, piena di grazia [4:36]
Aroldo (1857)
O Cielo! Dove son io? [9:46]
Don Carlo
O don fatale [4:44]
Aida (1871)
Ritorna vincitor! [7:08]


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